A False Reality

Today seemed to fill itself with unexpected emotional turmoil. What should have been an exciting and invigorating experience only created stress and anxiety. But more on this later.

For the majority of my blogging “career” (I haven’t ever been paid, but I’m not sure there’s a better word for it), I have only told half-truths. I cherry-picked the best stories and wrote them in amusing tones with included gifs to liven up my silly rambling thoughts. I don’t regret these previous posts – this type of writing makes me happy and seems to make my readers happy too. Sometimes, though, I feel I’m lying by omission.

Essena O’Neill, an Australian blogger – actually, let’s call her a social media entrepreneur – recently uploaded a brutally honest video that I found pretty inspiring. She called out my generation – herself included – for being overly self-obsessed and narcissistic, for basing all measures of self-worth and popularity on the number of ‘likes’ on Facebook and Instagram posts. Since the video went viral, Essena seems to have deleted all traces of herself from social media, so it appears she has followed through on her promise to quit it altogether.

She is braver than I.

In a way, social media is core to my life. It brings with it so much good – I have met new friends through Facebook and Twitter (later to become friends with them in ‘real life’), and these sites make me feel quite a bit closer to the rest of the world, big as it is.

But I have promised to be honest now.

I’m obsessed! I find myself checking my phone constantly for new updates. I do draw a large sense of self-worth (or a lack thereof) from how well my postings perform on different apps.

And, most importantly to this blog and what it discusses, I reveal only the best moments of my life to the world.

Don’t get me wrong – I am so lucky. Somehow I’ve managed to get myself across an ocean and do a bit of traveling on the way, thanks to some amazing scholarships I earned (shoutout to the OU Global Engagement Fellows and National Merit programs). I want to give back in some way, to give people a little peek into new cultures or advice about how they can get involved in programs to help them achieve their own dreams of travel and global learning.

For this reason, I feel so grateful to be a Global Engagement Fellow for my home university, an International Student Ambassador for the university I’m visiting, and a new member of Education in Ireland’s 2015 Student Ambassador Program. I hope I can fulfill my duties in each of these roles and encourage my fellow students and learners everywhere to aim high and shoot even higher.

I have to include some perspective, though.

Today, I had the amazing opportunity to visit Google’s European headquarters in Dublin for a university student open house. It was eye-opening and inspiring and I had a truly enriching four hours in those offices. I tweeted some thanks to the organizers and Snapchatted a photo before I left.

But, not an hour later, I spent a good forty minutes bawling my eyes out on Skype to my mom. Hearing such impressive people speak about their astounding work at such a colossal company summoned up all of the insecurities I have about what path I’m headed on. I was stressed about school, stressed about life, stressed about the future, stressed about the year I felt I’d wasted not studying the thing I loved all along, stressed about how much of a beginner I am in the field I love, stressed about the pressure to do well in such a competitive and seemingly bleak world. (More on these topics in a future blog, I hope.)

I didn’t post a photo of my red eyes and smeared mascara to Instagram. And if I hadn’t decided to write this blog, I would’ve continued on with life, no bother. Now the truth is out there, and that’s more useful.

A full picture: studying abroad is stressful. Hell, studying is stressful enough as it is. Throw in strange accents (or, for many, a foreign language), a new university culture where students go home every weekend while you stay alone in the city, a school system in which you might have two assignments all semester with most of your grade relying on one test, new pressures to do with different age limits on certain social activities… It all gets a bit much. I get a bit lonely. I get quite a bit homesick. The stress has heightened my nervous ticks, slight stutter, germophobia, and dermatillomania. None of this is documented on social media, but it is certainly true.

This post may seem a tad depressing, but I don’t mean it to be. I’m just sick of parading around an airbrushed version of my life on the Internet. I want to be more open and honest about the realities of day-to-day life. This is not to discourage anyone from studying abroad or launching into new adventures – quite the opposite, in fact. Going through the struggles – large and small – of culture shock has made me feel more equipped to help those who will experience it after me.

Social media distracts us from the struggles until it becomes one of them. It’s ok to feel a little lost. Nobody has it all figured out, even if some Instagram profiles say otherwise. Take a breath and a step back. Live the adventure for yourself, not for the camera.

Interestingly enough, this complex topic is one I explored in my honors New Literacies course with Dr. Brian Johnson last fall. One book we read in class that I'd recommend is It's Complicated, written by media researcher danah boyd. A free PDF copy is available on her website.


One Comment

  1. yes, life is complicated, and you wouldn't be human if you didn't have doubts and fears from time to time. But just keep in mind how much you have accomplished already and take life one day at a time. It is, after all, a journey and you have a lot of people who love you and support you ....I sure do!

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